British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock said yesterday he hoped Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would "not be around long enough" to form with President Bush the kind of close relationship she had with Ronald Reagan, a relationship that Kinnock has claimed helped cost Labor the last election in Britain.
Kinnock met yesterday with Bush and a string of senior administration officials during what is a two-day visit to Washington, his third during the 6 1/2 years he has been opposition leader. His past visits, with the Reagan administration, were marked by sharp differences of opinion over defense issues, but U.S. officials described yesterday's discussions as nonconfrontational.
"They essentially discussed East-West relations and there were no major disagreements," a senior official said, "It was quite routine."
But it was in stark contrast to Kinnock's last visit in 1987, when he claimed he was mistreated by the White House and accused spokesman Marlin Fitzwater of distorting the substance of his talks with Reagan to help Thatcher's chances during that year's British election.
After that meeting, the Labor leader had told reporters that he had tried to dispel fears that British support for NATO would flag if his party -- which had called for unilateral disarmament and the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Britain -- gained power.
But Fitzwater's account differed. He said the president had told Kinnock that the Labor Party's defense policies would undermine NATO and would undercut U.S. negotiators in nuclear arms talks. Kinnock, calling the account "extraordinary," denied that President Reagan had even raised the issue of Labor policies undercutting the U.S. negotiators.
Between that 1987 visit and Kinnock's current trip, Bush has replaced Reagan, the Cold War thawed and with it some of the Republican antipathy toward a party that had embraced nuclear disarmament and threatened conservative-beloved Thatcher.
Kinnock said yesterday that differences between the Labor Party and the White House had melted away because of recent changes in the world, and that he felt the two sides could enjoy a "healthy and productive" relationship.
"There is a change in the world from three years ago," he told reporters after the White House meeting. "The relationship that now exists reflects that change.
"There has been such a seismic change in relations East-West, that there therefore is a change of policy and policy attitudes in NATO and the U.S. and there most certainly is a policy change by the Labor Party.
"It is therefore bound to be the case that the condition of our relationship and the prospect of that relationship is a healthy and productive one," Kinnock said.
Asked if he and Bush had any differences, he replied: "Nothing that was identified."
Kinnock acknowledged the special relationship Thatcher enjoyed with Reagan but said it was too early to say what her "precise relationship" with Bush was.
"My natural hope is that Mrs. Thatcher is not going to be around long enough to find out," he said.